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Alison Rhodes, "The Safety Mom"

National Child Safety Expert, Alison Rhodes, “The Safety Mom,” is one of the country's leading child safety authorities, providing tips and advice to parents on a broad range of issues facing all children - newborns to teens.
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Shaken Baby Syndrome

Approximately 1,200 to 1,400 children suffer severe or fatal head trauma from violent shaking in the U.S. every year, and most experts believe that this form of child abuse is still under-reported. Shaken Baby Syndrome, or SBS, is the most common cause of child mortality and accounts for most long-term disability in infants and young children due to physical abuse. One third of all victims of SBS die, and another third are left with permanent injuries.

Shaken baby syndrome is the term used to describe the group of injuries that results when a baby or small child is violently shaken, dropped or thrown, or from the impact of the child's head against a hard surface. When a baby is shaken the brain rotates within the skull cavity injuring or destroying brain tissue and tearing blood vessels that feed the brain, causing bleeding around the brain and additional damage. Violent shaking can also result in retinal (back of the eye) bleeding, which can cause blindness.

The injuries exhibited by shaken babies and children cannot be caused by short falls, seizures, or as a result of vaccinations. The force of a child shaken in anger is 10 times greater than the force of a simple fall. The amount of brain damage suffered by a shaken child depends on the intensity and duration of the shaking and the degree of force with which the head strikes a hard surface. The symptoms of shaken baby syndrome vary from minor, such as irritability, lethargy, tremors, and vomiting; to major neurological changes, such as seizures, coma, stupor, and even death. In severe cases of SBS, the child immediately loses consciousness and suffers rapid, life-threatening failure of the central nervous system. A shaken child may also have bruises on the body (usually the arms or shoulders) where he or she was grabbed, and have fractured ribs or long bones. In many cases, however, there is no evidence of trauma to either the head or the body.

Because there are often no visible signs of abuse, head injuries in babies and toddlers are often difficult to diagnose and may be mistaken for a variety of other conditions or illnesses. Vomiting, fever, irritability, and lethargy are all symptoms of other diseases that commonly strike children, so if the attending physician fails to take an accurate history of injury and the child is too young to speak, the abusive head trauma may be misdiagnosed and critical treatment delayed. Many children who survive SBS suffer permanent handicaps ranging from mild learning and behavioral disorders to profound mental and developmental retardation, paralysis, blindness, or they remain in a permanent vegetative state. If you suspect a child has been shaken, seek medical attention immediately and let the doctor know your suspicions. Without this knowledge, the doctor may waste precious time looking for other symptoms of illness.

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March of Dimes
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